DJANGO UNCHAINED — An escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) bonds with an intellectual German white bounty hunter posing as an itinerant dentist (Christoph Waltz) in order to rescue the slave’s wife from the plantation he escaped from.
This film is the first to deal unstintingly with the cruelties and indignities of slavery since Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD, but dare I say the treatment here is different. The style of director Quentin Tarantino’s film derives in part (especially the climactic part) from the testosterone blood-splattering showdown mannerisms of the “spaghetti western” made famous by one of Tarantino’s pulp mentors, Sergio Leone (FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY).
In other words, Tarantino’s film addresses seriously and with a feeling of authenticity the violence of slavery of the anti-bellum South in yet an often non-serious, humorous, albeit stylistically violent way. Some critics and viewers have found this pulp treatment of such a serious subject jarring, even offensive (as they did his pulp treatment of the Holocaust in his prior Academy Award nominated film, THE INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). Spike Lee went out of his way to harshly criticize both Tarantino and his film, tongue-lashing his white colleague’s inappropriately self-taken treatment of an illimitably serious subject that was none of his business in the first place. Others have applauded Tarantino’s daring in offering historically telling details through a stylistically entertaining genre that brings the subject home to a popular mass audience.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s just Tarantino being Tarantino, ever on a quest to top himself both thematically and visually, putting his archival film and filmmaking knowledge in the service of his audacity. Interestingly, Mrs. Video shied away from seeing this violent movie but wound up really liking it; just as many women have come up to me at the store to tell me how much they liked The Inglorious Basterds.
The film does offer historical information made vividly fresh in a good, well-produced story laden with surprises and many Oscar-nominated (and winning) performances. Unmentioned in all the Academy Awards hullabaloo are particularly impressive performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as the glibly menacing wealthy plantation owner and Samuel Jackson as the owner’s servile but deviously self-serving black task master. The film does go on too long (as many films do these days), ending not where the dramatic arc demands but continuing on through a long, blood-splattering coda in order, I suspect, to have the Jamie Foxx character prevail as the hero instead of his white Kemo Sabe dentist bounty hunter. But all carping aside, the film is one to reckon with: to contemplate and even argue about.
Spike Lee admitted he never actually saw the film. You should.